that’s not my yoga!

Posted on May 6th, 2016 by

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it’s very often that I find myself totally in awe of how many yoga teachings are implicit within the daily life of motherhood. all the svadyaya (self –observation), tapah (discipline) and bhakti (devotional love) that I’d previously poured into my yoga practice and quest for self –realization have all been just a training ground for the real and very applied practical work of being a mother. The pranayama (breath-control) also comes in handy for nappy changing time.

there are insights into the yogic path to be had at literally every moment.

like for instance, this favourite and well-known scripture read to me by my child, translated probably from Sanskrit into English as “That’s Not my Kitten”.

this sacred text describes a journey of exploration and discovery. Through a process of elimination various Kittens’ qualities are examined and not found to belong to the Owner, until finally the right Kitten is found.

I mean, the subtext is clear, it’s the dualistic Sāmkhya philosophy. It’s the archetypal journey of the living being (Jiva) navigating around the universe of the intermingling of consciousness (purusha) and matter (prakriti).

the living being, Jiva is played by the kitten owner, exploring the various manifestations of creation (purusha-prakriti) played by the different kittens. Qualities (gunas) arise from the inter-play of consciousness (purusha) and prakriti (matter). These are represented by the different features that the false kittens display, such as a shiny bell, a squashy nose, a fluffy belly etc.

when the kitten owner comes across the various kittens with various features and exclaims “that’s not my Kitten, his bell is too shiny, or his nose is too squashy or her belly is too fluffy” etc this is a representation of the living being (jiva) using his intellect (buddhi) and ego consciousness (ahankara) to decipher the real and the unreal amidst the web of illusions (maya).

the various false idols are rejected before the Kitten owner, jiva is reunited with the true kitten, a reunion which leads to the liberation (kaivalya) of the living being, jiva from the bondage of consciousness (purusha) and matter (prakriti). 

that’s one way of reading, That’s Not My Kitten.

but also, the scripture has shed light upon another prominent more contemporary issue facing the yoga community right now. ‘That’s Not my Kitten’ has revealed to me the solution in how to manage my feelings towards how yoga is represented within the media.

there is a ‘new world order’ created by social media which has disorientated Yoga practitioners the world over. The persistent and consistent theme of social and public media portrayal and representation of yoga often generates reactions of dismay, confusion, disdain and discontent amongst practitioners.

yoga practitioner’s all over the world are freaking out about the way that other people within the Yoga community are representing themselves in the name of Yoga. Discussion, (which more often than not takes place within social media itself, to my bemusement) often revolves around the state of the yoga industry and problems with authenticity, integrity and sometimes a lack of a meritocracy.

it’s nearly 2 years ago since I wrote a blog post on a similar topic, “Yoga Selfies and Self Practice and WOW since then, the yoga industry seems to have moved on dramatically in just a short space of time. In that article I take a fairly live-and-let-live viewpoint in response to the backlash against yoga selfies. Since 2014 the extent to which the yoga selfie has become standard practice within the industry has been phenomenal. There are even social media and marketing seminars you can go to as a ‘wellbeing professional’ to help you best brand yourself.

I would even argue that images of yoga are steering the course of the industry and having an impact on the way yoga is perceived and practiced. The tail wagging the Kitten so to speak. The debate on how social media potraying yoga has also really moved on. There is much discussion on what is and what isn’t yoga. For instance, I was recently in a Facebook group where there were calls of outrage to take action and start a ‘name and shame’ revolt against people that show off their sexuality in yoga poses. One guy even went as far as singling out and sharing photos of a specific individual for which he found to be in poor taste and unrepresentative of yoga to him. To him my response was similar to what I always end up concluding whenever I find myself faced by this topic of discussion.
thats not my yoga“yeah, I understand the frustration and also have experienced it, but I’ve made my peace with the use of technology in our modern world.”

mark manson’s article on attention brilliantly makes the point that your attention is a valuable commodity. It will only be those people that are able to focus their attention that will be able to reap the rewards.

so as much as I can, I try to keep the reigns on my attention. I try to research and interact in the world wide web without getting caught up or distracted. I’m not going to lie, it’s becoming harder and harder to remain equanimous admist the growing torrent of output of imagery conveying what yoga is.

sometimes it can feel like you are swimming against the tide when you’re faced time and again with images of yoga that don’t sit well with what you consider yoga to be. Hell, I’ll admit I once cried in anger at a photo of a yoga teacher doing a really crap chatarunga.

so do you sink or swim or do you just get out of the water?

I’ve realized that for me in London, if I want to make a living from yoga I have to engage with the commercial aspect and partake in social media to an extent. Unless you’re a badass like my teacher Edward Clark and people just come to your secluded hermitage to pay homage and practice with you. Until then, as it stands, I, like most of the teachers out there do have to participate within social media.

I, like most teachers have toiled with the difficult questions of where I stand on the matter of how to engage with social media and how to represent yoga with the online world.

how I’ve come to terms with it is that I aim to really consider my underlying motives for whatever offerings I put out on social media. If I can, from the heart justify and stand strong in my reasons, then there is integrity and honesty there. That’s the best I feel that can be done until the revolution comes…

maybe there will a turning of the tide and a shift away from the ridiculousness of it all.

sometimes I fantasize that Instagram and Facebook get hacked and implode and all profiles get wiped and all followers and likes come crashing down to zero. Can you imagine? I wonder how people would cope in such a virtual Armageddon? Would we go back to the utopia of face-to-face contact with real friends and return to putting up a poster on a wall to market our classes in the local community and maybe it would be enough to teach and inspire a few rather than the whole world from our phone…

maybe I’m also responsible for the changes in contemporary yoga and ought to post less. Maybe we all are responsible… I have an idea, let’s start a group in Facebook to start the revolution….oh no wait…hang on..

plan B: get some perspective, do some yoga who is to say that my version and understanding of what yoga is, is better than anyone elses’?

It took me a lot of studying to realised that actually throughout the history of time there has never been any consensus regarding the origin and definition of yoga or what constitutes a yogi. Yoga is an ever-evolving tradition that spans across continents and cultures there is so much diversity within the tradition of yoga. The very essence of it’s teachings are ever-relevant and timeless precisely because they don’t lend themselves to being pinned down to any one place or time and so the appropriation of yoga is not only nonsensical, it is impossible, despite many attempts by many, throughout time

besides, I’m sure musicians and artists the world over have experienced similar pains of feeling a sense of a lack of decent representation and authenticity and integrity from their industry. When did the Top 10 charts ever contain music that you actually respected? However as yoga practitioners we have an advantage over the creative folks, in that we work specifically on cultivating a state of inner peace.

So my idea for Plan B? Find your kitten! As a living being (jiva) we can discern the real from the unreal and free ourselves from the shackels of illusion (maya) and attain liberation (kaivalya) i.e. lets take time off of the phone and do something real, go play in the park or give your time to helping others (without taking a photo of it, perhaps?!)

OK fine, it may be a bit of a quiet revolution but if we actually use the tools and techniques that yoga provides us with, things can change from the inside outwards and our feathers cannot be ruffled! For example, hone in our attention, maintain focus, self-reflect, trust your heart, practice equanimity and sensory withdrawal.

I’ve realised that the best way to come to terms with the state of things is to be true to whatever it is that I believe to be yoga and let that be reflected in whatever I offer out on the internet.

In this way, I hopefully maintain integrity so that real peace becomes unshakeably mine and no snazzy profile with a 1 million followers on Instagram can take that away. I can rest assured knowing that they are not representing my yoga:

“That’s Not my Yoga,”, “That’s Not my Yoga”, “That’s Not my Yoga, until I find it….

“That’s My Yoga!”